Stop-Motion by Peter Williams 2016
Ah. This is a tape I’ve got somewhere of a demo that was made while I was still working at Colossal Pictures in San Francisco, around 1991 I guess. I’ll try to explain, although it all might seem hard to believe.
I remember having mildly antagonistic conversations about rock music with a certain film genius who was my boss and whose name was and presumably still is Peter Williams. There were lots of things we disagreed about. A work day with him was sometimes hard to take, because we’d have to have the radio on, tuned to his station, and that station played, oh, maybe Bob Seeger followed by Creedence Clearwater Revival followed by let’s say Eddie Money or Huey Lewis. These were acts that I did not care for. Still we did work well together, not least because I stood in awe of his abilities, and he seemed genuinely interested in my criticisms of his taste in music, for whatever reason. Even if he didn’t show much interest in, oh, say, The Thinkin’ Fellers Local 182, or whatever ridiculous band moved me at the time. Besides which he was the best surfer I knew and a great guy.
There were two bands at the time upon which we agreed, and agreed that they were good bands. Those bands were, and I’m not in the least ashamed to say it, Guns-N-Roses, and Nirvana. I still think, to this day, that “Appetite For Destruction” stands with the great rock albums. I’ll gladly fight you on this one. But right around that time “Nevermind” came out too, and I know that I won’t ever have to fight anyone about that one.
All right. The company we worked for was going through an interesting phase; we were a special-effects contractor, had done the effects scenes for lots of Hollywood films, but that was obviously not where the money was. We did the Pillsbury Doughboy. We did Ritz Crackers. We even did Pepsi, and, I think, even the evil of evils, McDonald’s spots, in order to survive. I also remember a conversation I had around that time with the Überboss of the company about why, oh why, we were doing this poo-poo, and he said, it’s in order to secure a place in the greater scheme of things where we are free to create the things we really believe in… Blah blah blah, that’s when I knew I’d have to quit soon.
To his credit, though, there was occasionally a little jab, in the form of money, in the creative butt-bun of talent the firm presided over: we’d get a little budget for “project development,” or something like that.
There was an attempt, before The Simpsons existed, to convince Matt Groenig to make an animated series based on “Life Is Hell.” And there was an attempt to sell Nirvana’s management on the idea of an animated video for, ehm, well, one of their songs, based on the animation of a Jan Švankmeyer and a couple of brothers from Arizona, I think, whose names I’ve forgotten.
We didn’t get the job. I think the brothers from AZ got it.
What we got, Peter and I, was a few days to try out a few ideas, and I’m still thinking about the process. Mind you, this was in the days when CGI was still more expensive than analog. We did this stuff on film, and in-camera.
We used motion control, servo-motor systems, software developed by Bill Tondreau. Peter gave me (his model) instructions. I was to do certain things… turn, bend, whistle, take a photo, stuff like that. It was all shot on 35mm reversal film using a Fries-Mitchell camera mounted on an X-Y-Z- axis steerable motion control system that ensured identicle camera movement over multiple passes. The camera moves were saved on floppy disk. The film was processed. The film of me came back from the lab, and was projected frame by frame onto a standard art puppet, the kind used by art students to learn figure drawing; the puppet was posed to mimic my filmed movements in stop motion. Behind the puppet backgrounds were projected; I think those moved too. Maybe they were 35mm slides and the projector moved– I’m not sure any more. The whole projected thing was then shot through the same Fries-Mitchell camera (shout-out to Doug Fries and the company he built, kindness plus intelligence equals goodness), moving the same moves.
The video you see here I shot sometime, somewhere, with a cheap video camera directly off of a monitor screen. There is distortion and sync-bars, all that crap, but at least you get an idea of what we were trying to do.
Yeah, so that’s it.